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Arizona Estate Planning

Who Needs an Estate Plan?

Estate planning is not just for the wealthy. It is for anyone with people who rely upon them or who may need care. It is not absolutely necessary to have an estate plan, but here is what can happen when there is no plan:

  1. The State of Arizona decides who your heirs will be—who will benefit from your estate and who will not;
  2. The State of Arizona’s list of persons with priority will govern who will handle your estate. Not the person of your choice. Not a person of proven competence. It could even be a creditor.
  3. Some unknown person will decide who cares for your children, where they will live and how they will be educated.
  4. Some unknown person will handle and invest your children’s money or property. Again, this could be anyone. There is no competency or character test required.
  5. It is more likely that a probate will be needed to administer your estate with additional delay and additional cost.
  6. It is more likely that disputes will arise between family members and others concerning the distribution of your estate.
  7. For larger estates, it is more likely that substantially more estate tax will be paid.
  8. Should you need help later in life, it is more likely that a court ordered guardianship and conservatorship will be needed.

A good estate plan is the final gift you can give to the people important to you. And the good news is that it does not have to be complicated or expensive. An initial estate plan might consist of a simple Will coupled with powers of attorney, payable on death accounts, beneficiary designations for your 401K and Insurance Policies and a beneficiary deed. A version of this plan can work well for a smaller, simpler estate and will also avoid a probate in many cases. There are many estate planning tools. An experienced Phoenix Estate Planning Attorney can combine the right tools to fit the unique circumstances presented by each Client.

As your circumstances change, so can your estate planning needs. One of the most versatile and most common estate planning tools is the Revocable Living Trust. The Trust document is usually accompanied by Pour Over Wills, a Certificate of Trust, General Durable Powers of Attorney, Health and Mental Care Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, and related documents such as an Assignment of personal property to the trust. A properly funded Revocable Living Trust has many advantages. Some of these are as follows:

  1. Probate avoidance. Trust Administration is usually done without a court proceeding. This often means that costs are much less and the process of getting funds to those who need them can be expedited.
  2. Privacy. Because trust administration does not involve a court proceeding which is a matter of public record, it can be done privately.
  3. Federal Estate Tax reduction or elimination. This can be important for larger estates. Under current law, most estates incur no estate tax.
  4. Protection of family members or other beneficiaries who are vulnerable due to age, disability or other incapacity. Funds intended for these beneficiaries can continue to be managed by your Trustee and used for their benefit for purposes and under circumstances that you direct after your passing. So long as their funds remain in your Trust, the funds are protected from creditors of the beneficiary.
  5. Avoidance of a Guardianship and/or Conservatorship later in life. Because the Successor Trustee you select can take over management of the Trust estate before you die, he or she is available to assist if help is needed as the aging process progresses. This can avoid the need for an expensive court ordered and supervised Conservatorship or Guardianship.

Like any other type of planning, to be effective an Estate Plan must be put in place well before it is needed. Once a need arises, it is often too late. As an elderly or ill person becomes increasingly infirm, options become fewer and more expensive. An estate plan made very late in life can be more vulnerable to challenge by someone who questions the legal capacity of the person making the plan. In a proper case obtaining a medical opinion as to competency prior to signing and, possibly, videotaping the signing conference are options that can be helpful to minimize the risk of a successful challenge to an estate plan.

The Phoenix Estate Planning Lawyers at Platt and Westby, P.C. will be pleased to meet with you for a no-fee conference to learn about your circumstances and your concerns. We will answer questions about the estate planning process, the different options and devices that are available and your best options for protecting the people important to you.

Contact us via e-mail or at 602-277-4441 to schedule a no-fee initial conference with one of our Estate Planning lawyers. We will answer your questions, make recommendations and, in most cases, quote a flat fee for our services.

Platt and Westby, P.C. has offices in Phoenix, Glendale, Avondale, Gilbert, and Scottsdale, Arizona.

If you have an estate planning question, contact us.

We can help.

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